Those old days of the Pentagon
When I arrived in Washington D.C. as a correspondent for daily Hürriyet in August 1987, Ronald Reagan, a Republican president, was at the White House. Then, I saw the George Bush period from the beginning. Finally, I witnessed Bill Clinton take up his position in 1993, and then I came back to Turkey.
During those six years, I had the opportunity to closely see the decision-making mechanism in Washington. I knew the majority of actors who were responsible for Turkey-related files as part of this mechanism and knew some of them very well.
In fact, many striking examples showed me that the decision-making process in Washington was actually much more complicated than we thought. I witnessed different and nuanced perspectives of different bureaucrats, as well as the conflicting tendencies in Congress when it came to Turkey. I personally witnessed some of the concrete cases.
By its nature, the dynamics related to Turkey were most complicated in Congress. For instance, in all meetings I attended in Washington, I closely observed steady supporters of Turkey, as well as the activities of Greek lobby groups, who were willing to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities to harm Turkey’s interests. One could see the Greek lobby anywhere and anytime, who were mostly in cooperation with the Armenian lobby. Eventually, the Congress was where the compliments and criticisms about Turkey were going in a dead heat. Luckily, the Jewish lobby, who supported Turkey a lot at that time, were using its influence every time and compensated the negative developments to a certain extent.
Eventually, I used to go back home with mixed feelings after every meeting.
When it comes to the U.S. Department of State, the approach toward Turkey was overwhelmingly supportive. American diplomats were aware of the importance of Turkey. On the other hand, a series of problems regarding the bilateral relations were also always arising in this building. For instance, it was impossible to leave the building without hearing somebody suggest “it is high time that Turkey took a step toward the Cyprus issue.”
In short, there was an overall positive direction in U.S. foreign policy toward Turkey, but the problems were also on the surface and the efforts were clearly seen to find a balance when it came to Greece. However, I used to have less mixed feelings when I left the Department of State compared to what I used to feel after leaving the Congress building.
The White House had undoubtedly a positive approach toward Turkey, but their priorities were different, which usually did not include Turkey, except for the Gulf War period in 1991.
Meanwhile, there was a place in the capital of the U.S. where the compliments and expressions of admiration about Turkey were overweighing everything else. It was the Pentagon, opposite the Potomac River, where the United States Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and headquarters of military departments were located. This gigantic building, where I got lost every time I was there, was named after its pentagonal shape.
As a Turkish journalist, I used to have positive feelings after my visits or meetings in Pentagon every time. “Luckily, there are some people in Washington who provide unconditional and strong support to Turkey,” I used to think.
Civil bureaucrats, military officers and generals in Pentagon were the fiercest supporters of Turkey. Even before I asked any question as a Turkish journalist, they used to talk about the strategic importance of Turkey, Turkish soldiers, exemplary cooperation between the military forces of the two countries and the bravery of Turkish units during the Korean War. Most of the generals admired Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
In addition, they were not positive about the option to balance the policy toward Turkey with other factors. It was clearly known that generals in Pentagon were always backing Turkey in all debates about Turkey in Washington. In fact, Pentagon was the biggest lobby on behalf of Turkey in Washington.
If somebody came up with a prediction that American generals would give the order put sacks over Turkish soldiers’ heads in Iraq’s Sulaymaniyah, people in Washington would have probably believed that this person lost his mind.
Similarly, back in these days, nobody would have even thought of the possibility that American generals would cooperate with groups affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria and challenge Turkey by taking pictures together and saying “We will aggressively respond if you hit us.”
Back in these days, people would think such a situation would only be possible in a movie whose script was written by a highly creative scenarist in Hollywood.
However, a situation that could only be seen as fiction back in the days is now the reality of our day.